How to Clean Up After Oil Painting

How to Clean Up After Oil Painting

Want to know exactly how to clean up after oil painting? You’re in the right place.

In this post I will teach you how to clean your equipment using solvents; however it’s possible to clean oil paint without using solvent too. 

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What do you need for cleaning up after oil painting?

You’ll need a few items that you’ll probably be able to find around your house, and a few more items that you’ll need to get from an art store. Check this tick-list and click the links to find where to buy any extra items you might need…

Essential items

  • Solvent: turpentine, odourless mineral spirit or oil of spike lavender. Turpentine is a more effective cleaner, odourless mineral spirit is usually cheaper and the fumes aren’t as strong and oil of spike lavender is an effective thinner and a non-toxic alternative.
  • Paper towels.
  • Rubber gloves.
  • Razor scraper: this is essential if you have a glass palette.

Not essential, but helpful

  • This brush washer: it’s a lidded container for your solvent that keeps your workspace from smelling like paint thinner, suspends brushes in the solvent to keep the tips from splaying and filters paint sediment from your solvent to keep it clean.
  • This silicone paint scrubber: it speeds up the cleaning process as it provides you with some much needed friction to completely remove the paint from your brushes.
  • Brush cleaner and restorer: This acts as a conditioner for your brushes, removing any excess paint residue, softening and preserving them.

Step 1: Prepare your space

The first thing to do is make sure your space is well ventilated. Open your windows, as you want solvent fumes to dissipate.

Wear your rubber gloves too. If the solvent comes into contact with your skin, it can make it dry and sore.

Step 2: Clean the brushes

Suspend your brushes in the brush washer or your solvent container until you can see that the paint has loosened.

Wipe some of the excess paint off on a paper towel or rag.

Then swill it around in your solvent container until the bulk of paint has been removed.

Wipe again—you may have to repeat this process a few times until you can see that all of the paint has been removed from the bristles.

Your paintbrush should be completely clean and free of paint. You can test this by wiping the brush on a clean paper towel, if it leaves a slight trail of pigment then repeat the process again.

If you leave your brushes to dry at this step, they will become incredibly dry and misshapen after just a few uses. It’s good practice to condition your brushes with soap to keep them in good shape and performing like new for as long as possible.

I use the Master’s Brush Soap for this (the one I linked to above). It’s a specialist soap for brushes that works to restore them and maintain their cleanness and springiness.

To clean using the brush soap, first of all I wet the brush I want to clean in warm water.

Then swirl the brush around on the soap. I then use the Silicone Paint Scrubber (the link for this is also in the list) to work up a lather with the brush. The grooves on the paint scrubber work to remove paint stuck at the base of the bristles, so don’t be afraid to get right up to the ferrule when cleaning. If the bristles harden with any paint stuck at the base, they become splayed.

Repeat this process until the brushes are clean. When the bristles are still wet, shape them with your fingers to a point. The bristles will remain in the shape they dry in. You could even wrap the bristles in a strip of paper towel held together with masking tape to ensure they dry in formation.

Clean palette knives by wiping them on a paper towel.

It’s possible to restore your brushes to their original state, even brushes that have seemingly passed a point of no return. Use the Master’s soap brush cleaner and restorer, repeatedly lathering the ends until they become soft again. Make sure to pull dried paint from the ferrule. You can shape the bristles back to a point using gum arabic.

Step 3: Clean your palette

When to remove oil from the palette

The short answer to this is, before it dries, ideally. You don’t have to worry about that as much if you’re working on a glass palette, but if you’re working on wood, oil paint can be very tricky to remove once dry.

After a session, clean only the new colours that you have mixed during that session. These are the sections that are most likely to dry over night. This will give you space to mix new colours in your next session.

This will leave you with the blobs of paint that you squeezed straight from the tube at the start of the session dotted around the edge of the palette.

As oil paint can stay wet for days at a time, it makes sense to only clean off the colours that you have created by mixing. The colour that came straight from the tube that’s likely dotted around the edge of the palette—cover it, and put it in the fridge overnight. That way, the paint will keep from oxidising and stay fresh for you to use the next day.

How to remove oil from a glass palette

If the paint is wet, just wipe the sections you want to clean with a paper towel or rag. To clean the whole palette, first wipe with a paper towel, then you can just wash it with soap and water in the sink. Glass palettes are by far the easiest to clean. If you’re looking to get your own glass palette, I recommend this one by New Wave, it has a large mixing area and is made from tempered glass, so it’s ultra sturdy.

Use a razor scraper if the paint is dry. Hold the scraper at a 45 degree angle to the palette and scrape the dried paint off. I’ll go over how to dispose of your paint waste, like paint scrapings further on in this post.

How to remove oil from a wooden palette

Before you start using your wooden palette, you should prepare it properly so that you can start oil painting on it, without it absorbing oil colour. Do this by first sanding to ensure it’s smooth, then by dipping a lint-free cloth in linseed oil and wiping it over the palette. Remove any excess oil with another lint-free cloth, and let it dry (this should take a few days).

Don’t let the paint dry on a wooden palette, as it’s a nightmare to remove!

When the paint is wet, just remove it with the side of your palette knife. Then wipe the palette clean with a paper towel or lint-free cloth.

If you have dried paint stuck to your palette, spread a layer of odourless mineral spirit or turpentine over it. Let it soak for 5 minutes, then wipe clean with paper towel. You may need to carefully remove any stubborn bits of paint with a flat razor.

It’s natural for a wooden palette to become discoloured over time—it gives it character! You just want to make sure the palette is smooth, flat and clean to make it as workable as possible.

Step 4: Dispose of oil paint waste

Avoid pouring solvents or oil paint down the drain. Doing this can contaminate the water system. Also, leaving oil-soaked rags or paper towels piled up in the open air is a fire hazard. For this reason, you should dispose of oil paint waste properly.

You’ll need airtight containers to store the waste in until you can get to your local waste disposal unit. It’s also good practice to fill the container with some water as an extra preventative measure. 

Remember to keep it shut at all times, except when you’re opening it to fill with more waste.

When it becomes full, take it to your local hazardous waste facility, or call up your local council to enquire about where best to dispose of it.

Remember, you can reuse solvent by decanting it into a new container—you don’t need fresh solvent for each clean up.


If you’re just beginning on your oil painting journey and you’re not quite sure what supplies to get, start with this beginner’s guide. It’ll teach you about all the tools and materials you need to start oil painting and give you valuable advice on how to use the materials to get the best results.

How to clean oil paintbrushes: Pin it!

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